It was all right for Muhammad Ali to predict not only victories but also the round in which he would stop an opponent. Boxing is one thing, thoroughbred racing is another. The talk in this sport among the owners and trainers—at least in public—is usually very polite, very reserved, very genteel. Boasting is about as welcome as a shattered sesamoid.
So a lot of racing people are going to have to adjust to Grover (Buddy) Delp, who, among other things, has said this year, "Only an act of God can beat Spectacular Bid" and "I think he's the best horse who's ever looked through a bridle."
Delp, that paragon's trainer, also passes out buttons that say FLIP YOUR LID WITH SPECTACULAR BID. Last Saturday, before and after the $149,000 Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah, the button business was brisk.
So was Spectacular Bid. He won the Flamingo—his ninth consecutive stakes victory—by the whopping margin of a dozen lengths and returned a miserly win mutuel of $2.10. No horse had ever won a Flamingo by such a wide gap, nor had one ever returned so little on a $2 investment. Citation and Seattle Slew, for example, paid $2.40 when they won the Flamingo en route to winning Triple Crowns. It is rare to see a horse toy with his field the way Spectacular Bid did in the Flamingo, pulling away from seven opponents with one big run down the backstretch. When Bid got to the lead, he just seemed to go swoosh, and the Hialeah crowd began applauding him long before he even reached the top of the stretch. Nevertheless, according to Delp, the Flamingo was probably only the third-best race of the colt's stunning career.
"I didn't think any horse in the field could give Bid a challenge," Delp said following the race, "so I didn't work him hard and I don't think the race took anything out of him." Indeed, the Flamingo, one of the major races in a classic colt's life, turned out to be little more than a public workout witnessed by 23,157 people.
"I thought the Laurel Futurity and the Champagne Stakes last fall were his two best races, and I still think so," said Delp. "I didn't see anything in the Flamingo—and I don't see anything on the horizon—that can beat him. Bid is just a great racehorse. Now we'll take our act to Kentucky and get ready for the Derby. He'll run in the Bluegrass and then move on to Churchill Downs. I have no idea how many horses will try him in the Derby. I wouldn't think too many would bother to make the trip after what he did here."
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the 1979 Flamingo was the performance of Spectacular Bid's rider, 19-year-old Ron Franklin. In the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in early March, Franklin made enough mistakes for a dozen jockeys and was scolded furiously by Delp. Spectacular Bid still won, but Franklin was very close to being taken off Bid in favor of another rider. Owners Harry, Teresa and Tom Meyerhoff decided to stick with Franklin "because he fits the horse."
In the Flamingo, Franklin fit Spectacular Bid about as well as one could want. The colt broke from the outside post position, went four horses wide around the first turn and took the lead after half a mile. Before reaching the top of the stretch, Franklin hit Bid twice and then tapped the horse four more times through the stretch run. Like many horses, Spectacular Bid tends to loaf a little when not being seriously challenged, and after the fiasco in the Florida Derby, Franklin was not about to take any chances.
Franklin is still an inexperienced jockey, a kid who arrived at the stable gate at Pimlico three years ago looking for work as a hot-walker. He had never been on a horse and had only rarely gone to the racetrack. "Ain't never seen a Kentucky Derby," he says, "but I saw three Preaknesses. I saw Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. I know that Bid is better than those horses and all of 'em won the Triple Crown."
The day that Franklin arrived at the track just happened to be one of those days when Buddy Delp needed a hand. Franklin walked hots and mucked stalls and didn't even get on a horse for his first eight months with the big (68 horses) Delp operation. He finally rode a couple of horses during morning workouts, and then he spent four months learning to become a rider at the Middleburg (Va.) Training Center. The first time Delp put Franklin on a mount in a race the horse won.